For many, the mention of Newberg evokes images of wrestling dominance.
Last year, the Tigers won their 12th state championship, tied with Roseburg for the most in the big-school division.
Football has been another, matter, though. Newberg has six playoff wins since the program started more than a century ago, its deepest postseason run a semifinal appearance in 1960.
But in the four seasons since Kevin Hastin took over as coach, the Tigers are rising as a football power. Last season they won eight games, the most since 1960. This season they are 5-0 as they head into a season-ending showdown Friday at 6A power West Linn (5-0).
According to Hastin, the same kind of winning culture promoted by wrestling coach Neil Russo is developing in the football program. Hastin and Russo, who teach a weight-training class together, have become close friends.
“The crossover between wrestling and football is huge,” Hastin said. “In my opinion, there's not a better place to be a wrestler and a football player, just the relationship we have between the programs. And we foster it as coaches.”
On paper, Friday's game at West Linn is nothing more than the finale of a strange, shortened season. In reality, it represents a litmus test for the Tigers in their bid to be considered among the state's elite teams.
In the 2019 playoffs, Newberg had a respectable performance in falling to eventual 6A champion Central Catholic 28-12 in the second round. The Tigers believe they are much improved this season, and Friday is a chance to show it.
“Playing Central Catholic tough last year, the kids walked away from that game thinking, 'Hey, we can play with these teams that have been playing at a top level for a long time,'” Hastin said. “Now it's time to see if we've made that jump to compete with these upper-level teams.”
Newberg accomplished its first goal this season by winning all four of its Pacific Conference games, including a 14-9 win over Sherwood, which handed the Tigers their only conference defeats in 2018 and 2019.
Their second goal was to play a state power in Week 6, and that matchup came to fruition last week. Hastin said he expressed his desire for a strong opponent with Newberg athletic director Tim Burke, who took it from there.
“I just told him, 'Hey, I want the best team available that will play us. Whoever that may be, we want to play the best,'” Hastin said. “I think a lot of people knew that West Linn's got a great team this year. Newberg kids know it.”
When Hastin told his team about playing West Linn, “there was some serious energy,” he said. “Our kids are pumped to play them. To play the best team in the state last year, and now we get a shot to play a great West Linn team, it's great for our program.”
But first, Newberg had to fight for a 34-28 win over Mountainside on Friday.
“The truth was, if we didn't take care of business on Friday night, it could change,” Hastin said. “From the kids' standpoint, they knew they had to beat Mountainside to play West Linn.”
Price Pothier, a 5-foot-6, 180-pound junior, rushed for 299 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries against Mountainside. Pothier has rushed for 701 yards and 10 touchdowns for the season.
Pothier is among several wrestlers making key contributions for the Tigers. Among the others are sophomore halfback and inside linebacker Hudson Davis – who “doesn't come off the field,” according to Hastin – senior linemen Alec Love and Connor O'Bryan and junior outside linebacker Charlie Evans, the state champion at 132 pounds last year.
Newberg is averaging 36.6 points per game. Junior quarterback Levi Durrell has thrown for 703 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions. His top target is 6-3 senior Owen Hawley, who has 21 catches for 359 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Conner Croskrey is the heart and soul of a physical, swarming defense, which is holding opponents to 10.8 points per game. Evans has a team-high three interceptions.
As the season has progressed, expectations have risen for the Tigers.
“That's the way you want it as a coach,” Hastin said. “Pressure is good. Pressure is healthy. It makes us all better. Our kids are embracing that. We're not going into this week nervous. The pressure is not going to get to us. We're excited for the opportunity.”
Newberg has a massive chore in trying to slow down the Lions, who are averaging 39.0 points per game, second in 6A to Sunset (40.6). The Lions feature senior quarterback Blake DeBisschop (13 touchdown passes), senior running back Gavin Haines (10 touchdown runs) and senior receiver Clay Masters (six touchdown catches).
“They're polished offensively, and they don't make mistakes,” Hastin said. “They've got great team speed on defense. Their defense is kind of like looking in the mirror a little bit. They're got some stud linebackers, like we do, and they're physical up front.”
Other top games in Week 6:
Dallas (5-0) at Thurston (4-1): The Dragons, 5-0 for the first time since 2000, pick up a game against two-time reigning 5A champion Thurston after its scheduled opponent, Central (1-4), canceled. Dallas features junior quarterback Ashton Foster (eight touchdown passes) and junior running back Logan Person. Thurston junior Gavin Knights rushed for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-31 win over 6A Sheldon last week, giving him 740 yards and 10 scores for the season.
West Salem (5-0) at Sprague (5-0): The two best teams in the Salem-Keizer School District – each has defeated the other four district teams – meet with bragging rights on the line. Sprague has rebounded from back-to-back 2-7 seasons by increasing its scoring from 16.0 in 2019 to 38.4 this season. West Salem has won the last four meetings by an average margin of 24.0 points.
Wilsonville (5-0) at Barlow (3-2): Wilsonville, a perennial 5A contender, already has beaten two 6A teams in Beaverton and David Douglas, and now goes after Barlow, a 6A semifinalist last season. Wildcats senior Jayce Knapp threw for 388 yards and five touchdowns in a 37-14 win over Canby last week.
Sunset (5-0) vs. Central Catholic (5-0) at Hillsboro Stadium: Reigning 6A champion Central Catholic will have its hands full with resurgent Sunset, which last week beat longtime nemesis Jesuit 31-14, ending a 26-game losing streak to the Crusaders. The game matches Central Catholic's defense, which is allowing a 6A-low 8.2 points per game, against a Sunset offense that averages a 6A-high 40.6 points. Apollos quarterback Kyle Jaekel has thrown for 911 yards and 14 touchdowns without an interception.
Cascade (3-2) at Banks (4-1): The Cougars and Braves, who tied for fifth in the 4A BCS-style rankings, play in the fifth-place game of the Elite 8 Showcase. It is the first meeting between the teams since the 2015 semifinals, a 42-21 Cascade win. Banks' only loss was a 38-0 defeat to top-ranked Mazama. The Cougars lost to No. 2 Marist Catholic 35-21 and 5A Canby 28-27. Braves quarterback Cooper Gobel has thrown for 1,074 yards and 13 touchdowns, six to Charles White.
Santiam Christian (5-0) vs. Cascade Christian (4-0) at Cottage Grove: The game of the season in 3A matches reigning state champion Santiam Christian against dangerous Cascade Christian, a quarterfinalist last season. Santiam Christian, which has won 18 in a row, is led by quarterback Ely Kennel and running back Marcus Fullbright. Cascade Christian's attack revolves around quarterback Sam Martin, running back Kristian Fralich and receiver Matthew McPheeters.
Marist Catholic (4-1) vs. Mazama (5-0) at Cottage Grove: The first-place game of the 4A Elite 8 Showcase matches the No. 2-seeded Spartans against the No. 1 Vikings. Marist Catholic, which lost only to 5A Silverton, earned its spot in the game last week by defeating then-No. 2 Marshfield 39-21 behind Luke Patterson, who ran for two touchdowns and caught two scoring passes. Mazama, which defeated two-time 5A reigning champion Thurston 23-21 on a last-second field March 25, has allowed only 29 points all season.
Marshfield (4-1) vs. Gladstone (5-0) at Cottage Grove: Third-seeded Marshfield and No. 4 Gladstone square off in the third-place game of the 4A Elite 8 Showcase. The teams played in nonleague games the last two seasons, with Marshfield winning on the road 20-17 in 2018 and Gladstone returning the favor 36-25 in 2019. The Pirates' Dom Montiel has thrown for 1,353 yards and 18 touchdowns, five to DJ Daugherty. Gladstone has dynamic weapons in running back Sabastian Peiffer and 6-5 receiver Jude Ashpole.
Sherwood (4-1) at Silverton (3-1): An intriguing matchup between the 6A Bowmen, who have won four in a row since losing to Newberg 14-9, and the 5A Foxes, who have won three in a row since losing to West Salem 24-14. Sherwood rushed for 477 yards last week, getting 213 from Clay Peden, to beat Liberty 62-20. Due to positive COVID-19 tests in its program, Silverton canceled its Mid-Willamette Conference showdown with West Albany last week.